Insomnia is already quite common in women. Add a pandemic, and you’ve got a perfect storm for sleepless nights. Here are 10 proven ways to get more shut-eye.
Sleep experts on how to get a better night’s shut-eye.
“WOMEN GET THE short end of the stick.”
Talk about an evergreen comment. Today, it’s coming from behavioural sleep medicine specialist Jonathan Charest, who’s talking to me about sleep issues.
According to Statistics Canada, 55 percent of Canadian women report that they frequently struggle to fall asleep or stay asleep, compared to 43 percent of men. The reasons are myriad, Charest says. Natural hormone fluctuations caused by the menstrual cycle, pregnancy, perimenopause and menopause can result in insomnia. Sleep issues may have also gotten worse for women during the pandemic, he adds, in part because of the desire to keep up productivity while also often facing a disproportionate burden of domestic duties and child care. This extra pressure, mixed with the current levels of stress and anxiety, make the pandemic the perfect storm for inadequate sleep.
And frequent sleepless or restless nights can have serious consequences. Studies link insufficient shut-eye to an increase in the risk of depression, obesity, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular risk. Statistics Canada reports about one-third of Canadians regularly sleep less than the recommended seven to nine hours per night.
No wonder, then, that sleep, and our pursuit of it, has grown into a $78-billion global industry. There’s no shortage of suggested solutions out there, ranging from pillow sprays to high-tech gadgets to orgasming before bed.
But what strategies have been proven to help, and which ones are based on little more than a dream? We spoke with three Canadian sleep experts about proven ways to get a better night’s sleep. Here’s what they advise.
. EMBRACE THE DARK.
The first question Charest asks patients at Calgary’s Centre for Sleep and Human Performance medical sleep lab is: How dark is your bedroom? Bright light makes the body feel more awake because it inhibits melatonin, a hormone that regulates the body’s internal 24-hour schedule of sleep and wakefulness, known as the circadian or sleep cycle. For those with light-filled bedrooms, Charest recommends investing in blackout blinds or eye masks. Anything that can help with a dark environment is a positive, he says.
. MAKE SURE YOU MOVE.
Sitting on the couch all day may seem relaxing, but it can actually impede getting a deeper level of sleep. “If you exercise throughout the day, regardless of the intensity, you will need to recuperate from that exercise,” Charest says, adding that 30 minutes of activity is enough to see a change in your sleep patterns.
If possible, avoid exercising too close to bedtime, Charest advises, because it energizes the body rather than putting it into wind-down mode. However, the most important thing is to figure out what works with your schedule. “I prefer you doing physical activity at 8 p.m. than not at all,” he says.
. GET SOME SUN.
Sunlight, particularly early in the morning, helps the body feel alert and awake. But Dr. Frances Chung, ResMed research chair of Anesthesiology, Sleep and Perioperative Medicine at University Health Network in Toronto, says with many employees now working from home, exposure to sunlight has been reduced. Chung, who is currently researching the impact of the pandemic on sleep, adjusted her own routine to account for this, making a point of having her morning coffee out in her garden. In the winter, experts recommend using a seasonal affective disorder (SAD) lamp to keep your circadian rhythm on track.
. BRING THE WHITE NOISE.
The sound of a snoring partner, for example, varies in terms of decibels and frequency, which can make it difficult to fall asleep. In studies on patients in noisy hospitals, white noise showed potential for masking the inconsistent environmental